We hear this all the time in our therapy practice. No, we’re not dating coaches, but love and romance, and the quest for both, are big parts of emotional life, and therefore a big part of therapy.
Wherever you date, there you are
You can only date as who you are, and while some measure of primping and putting on your best face is part of the game, at some point in the process, who you are, including your vulnerabilities and limitations, is going to come through. Believe it or not, that can be some of the most wonderful parts of dating, but also pretty terrifying.
Dating is exposing. When you’re getting ready for a first date, or heading to the party where you’re supposed to meet that guy your friend has been telling you about (that she’s sure you’re going to just LOVE), you’re going to find yourself looking at yourself (in the mirror and in the emotional mirror) through a different sort of lens.
The problem with lenses, though, is that they often have huge distortions. Years of experiences—past relationships, good and bad, early life experiences, successes and failures all leave their share of scratches and grime. But we’re used to looking through those lenses without noticing these distortions. Or if we’re aware of them we don’t necessarily know how to correct them on our own. Compounding the problem is the contemporary myth that you and you alone are the expert on you.
So, I’m doing it wrong?
What a terribly shaming expression the internet has given us (“you’re doing it wrong”). First, you don’t necessarily have to be struggling with dating to work on it in therapy (you may want to be doing it better, or take a look at the insights that are emerging as the dating is going along). Along with the shaming is a dose of blaming thrown in for good measure. We often tell people (women especially) that if it wasn’t for such-and-such a feature of how they’re dating they’d have a mate “by now.” The problem is, dating isn’t like making a great martini. It’s about the totality of who you are, conflicting feelings about who you want to be dating and to what end you’re searching. It’s exposing and, at times, humiliating. The last thing you need is the break-room gaggle offering their ridiculing two cents.
Growing your dating life is growing your life, life
When we think about dating we think about the game—asking that woman out who lives in your building, tweaking your online profile, flirting, fourth date, fifth date, rules, etc. and so it’s these activities that tend to define the limits of a conversation around dating. But dating is also about who you are—the you who shows up on those dates, or who’s captured in an online profile. Do you feel good about yourself? Is your life filled with exciting things (that you can share on a date, or in a relationship, perhaps)? Having richer relationships everywhere, being proud of who you are, developing confidence doesn’t need to be (and shouldn’t be) confined to the traditional constraints of dating.
Dating is about getting close
That’s the point—in some fashion or another, whether it’s a hookup or marriage with children that you’re looking for, the task is to sort through the options and find someone to get closer to. Getting close, though, is such fraught territory. It’s scary. It’s exposing. It makes us more vulnerable to getting hurt. Dating exposes all of this. We bring our histories on each and every date (and everywhere we go). Getting close to other humans, while one of the most wonderful and desirable of life’s offerings, raises so many conflicts for so many people. You want it, but parts of it don’t feel safe. You think you want it but then find yourself always running away. Or you put yourself in it with people who hurt you, or need too much taking care of, or won’t allow anyone to take care of them at all. Close is tough, and close is the domain of great therapy. It ought to be a part of any meaningful work on dating.
Taking another look at the obvious
You know how to date. Of course you do. You’ve been doing it for years.
And maybe that’s your problem.
As we’ve said a great deal, knowing what you’re doing is often the biggest obstacle because it shuts down creative possibilities (As in, “Yeah, yeah. I know, I know. I got this.”) Great therapy for dating challenges “I got this” by deconstructing the assumptions you bring to the process.
Those challenges may look like picking apart the type of relationship you are open to, ready for, and want, and know as you get in a relationship this might change because two heads are now in one relationship (even in polyamorous relationships). Do you want to date slowly? Do you want to date someone who is looking to marry or partner? Do you want casual relationships? What does casual mean for you and for the other person? What kind of sex do you want to have, if at all, and in what context do you want to have it?
It just doesn’t have to suck
If dating sucks, don’t do it. Yes, we understand: Even though you may hate it, if you don’t date you definitely won’t find a partner. The problem with ignoring those hesitations and plowing through and doing it anyway is that the you that shows up on dates is going to be a begrudging you. Often the best plan is to pause, gain some understanding of why the process is so loathsome, build your team and then get back at it in perhaps a whole new way.
Yep. How great would that be? If you’re ready to get out there, there’s no reason a great dating therapist can’t be with you every step of the way—perusing your dating profile, discovering performances of flirting and small talk (and big talk), talking through options, making decisions along the way about how to be safe and navigate the early stages of a new relationship.
You don’t have to do this alone. You don’t have to “just do it” and you’re certainly not “doing it wrong.” If you can let that go and get yourself a partner in the process, it just might not have to suck.